Shape up or ship out of social

Either businesses take the next step in social or quietly disappear overwhelmed by volumes of meaningless posts.

The last few months has seen social media skyrocket in usage. And it’s not just more active users, people around the world are spending more time on social. Yay social!

But this is bad news for brands.

Most businesses have got away with tick box marketing when it comes to social. The briefs passed down as “Oh, pop this on social too”. The instruction that business as usual is what’s needed (like that’s a strategy!). The job passed to someone with only a few minutes’ experience of digital, let alone marketing. Gah!

Social is sophisticated. You need to understand audiences who are complicated and ever changing, deliver thumb-stopping content, crunch numbers and data on the fly, keep abreast of rapid-fire changes to platforms and do battle with tools, tech and bugs that need fixing.

What is going wrong then? Why has so much social marketing not moved on from the basics? How did we make that one marketing opportunity to be in the palm of every customer, inches away from every eyeball, so impossible to achieve? Let me tell you.

It starts with mediocrity

The trouble with social is its low entry point. It costs nothing to have a profile. It costs nothing to put out a post. It lulls us into a false sense of security where we really truly believe our post will go viral and Kim Kardashian will promote our brand for free.

We add to our woes by then pursuing goals that our businesses couldn’t give a rat’s arse about. Engagement, followers, fans are irrelevant metrics when it comes to business. Engagement might just be a wee bit helpful when considering content relevancy, but that is it.

Business value is not proved by how many likes you have. But instead it should lean back on good old proven marketing metrics like reach, recall, action and heck, dare I say it, purchase. In fact reach and awareness should always be a key goal on social. The channel’s ability to influence top of funnel and build brand trust is phenomenal. If nothing else start with this.

And if you don’t have the luxury of linking to ecommerce platforms to prove ROI, and are dealing with brand or in-store, then go back to correlation graphs, equity points, recall.

Yes, it’s hard to align the MarTech stack. To gather up all the metrics and understand what has driven the sale – the where, how and why it did so. That’s marketing for you. You’ll be wandering the maze that is attribution and not last click and it can be a headache. But we can try. We can be better.

Social success costs

Why does this matter? Because, if we can get the people holding the purse strings to take social seriously (and they will if it is accountable) then they will invest in social. And we need them to show us the bloody money so we can actually make a difference!

Face it. It’s pretty awkward when our audiences are more creative than us.

Social needs investment because our customers are out-creating us. Spend 30 mins on TikTok and you’ll see what I mean. Ok that is just raw creativity without messaging or mission. But it’s what stands-out in feed. We need some of that if we’re to cut through the noise on social.

We need to think, and we need to create, social-first. This isn’t a self-serving view of social marketing. It’s a pragmatic logical point that social is about as close as you’ll get to real-time customer behaviours and you need agility and focus to bend and sway with your audiences. If you think first about your audiences on social, from psychographics to trends, you will have greater impact with your social marketing. Fact.

But good strategy and creative needs time. It needs quality skilled professionals who understand their craft. People who align messages to goals and tap into the zeitgeist to capture attention. We need to think big creative ideas, with quality executions and a decent budget.

Pay the bloody piper

Social is not free. It hasn’t been for years. There was a time when all it cost was resource, but those days are gone. Long gone. To make any difference in social you have to pay up. And not a couple of hundred quid. Leave that to the micro businesses.

Any brand worth its salt should be investing in immersive instant experiences, pushing video the quality of Netflix and pressing all the AR buttons they can. And using paid social is the only way to make that happen.

It’s also the only way to get reach given how many platforms are strangling organic now (making most of those followers pretty pointless). Paid also requires talent and skills. Some channels like Facebook give us dynamic ways to serve ads, but others don’t. Every bloomin’ platform is different. LinkedIn has quality audiences, but it costs. Snap has innovation, but you need the smarts to make it worthwhile. Do paid. Do it well. And it will pay back in spadefuls.

I know I am ranting, but every week I have a discussion with a brand on one of these points. Social is not cheap or easy, but with its sophistication comes value. Business value. So, it’s time to make a change and either we can take the next step in social and succeed, or quietly disappear overwhelmed by volumes of meaningless posts.

Katy Howell

Katy Howell is the CEO of Immediate Future. She was named one of the 25 women who have made an outstanding contribution to digital by the Drum, and was honoured to be amongst the Top 100 Asian tech entrepreneurs in the UK. Her expertise lies in helping brands deliver significant impact by breaking the social boring: using social data to springboard creative that delivers growth to business. Her agency works with brands including; lastminute.com, Princess Cruises, Selfridges, Mission Foods, Google, Diageo, JD Williams, Fujitsu, Sony Music, and many more.

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